Interview With Post:Ballet’s Robert Dekkers

I was lucky enough to catch Post:Ballet’s founder/choreographer Robert Dekkers as the company gears up for its fifth season performances August 7-9 at Yerba Buena  Center For The Arts’ Lam Research Theatre in San Francisco. 

Dekkers founded Post:Ballet in 2009 with a vision to collaborate with multi-disciplinary artists in new and innovative ways. The company integrates modern aesthetics with classically based dance to present work that is deeply personal and relevant to both the artists and the community. The San Francisco Chronicle says Post:Ballet “argues to become a permanent fixture on the local dance scene. We need more companies like this – inventive, focused, sophisticated and anything but risk averse” Dekkers has also been named “25 to Watch” by DANCE Magazine. 

photo by Natalia Perez

1. This is Post:Ballet’s fifth season. What excites you most about your new work?

The in-depth (and at times very vulnerable!) creative process for this work has been difficult but extremely rewarding. I feel like ourevolution might be the most “human” piece I’ve made to date. Developing this work slowly over the past six months, I’ve been able to share some very meaningful conversations and explore some very real emotions with the dancers. The resulting work feels honest and genuine, it allows the dancers to express themselves as individuals while also making an overarching comment on the evolution of ideas and conversation. My steady dialogue with painter Enrique Quintero, lead animator Yas Opisso, and costume designers Christian Squires and Susan Roemer has also helped me dig deeper into the concept behind the work and find ways of expressing my idea in a meaningful and substantive way. The piece is about conversation, and because of the considerable dialogue that I’ve shared with all the artists involved in the work, I am optimistic that the final product will convey the process. I look forward to sharing a work that is intimate and real with the audience. 

2. What were your inspirations or core themes?

ourevolution is about the evolution and the revolution of conversation and ideas. I use the term “revolution” not in reference to a proposed coup, but rather to an experience that is cyclical in nature. The adage “History repeats itself” is more true than any of us wish it were, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s not also an evolution (however small) that occurs with each of these revolutions. Is it possible that through the endless revolution of conversation (conflict, compromise, connection, repeat) we are inching away from arguing in black and white, and instead exploring the potential to converse in shades of grey? Conflict and disagreement will always exist, otherwise resolution and harmony would not, but could there be a coiling in of this cycle, a transition away from extremes and toward a more balanced place of conversation? While we may not live long enough to see even one full revolution of this cycle, it is my (optimistic?) hope that we are slowly circling in on a place where conversation (disagreement and agreement) is shared in a more refined palate. 

photo by Natalia Perez

3. What have been your favorite behind-the-scenes moments?

Perhaps my favorite moment of the creative process thus far was when I joined the dancers in ourevolution for coffee a few months ago. I had been developing material for the new work, working with the dancers to build both movement phrases and overall concept, but I was still at a loss at how to craft the opening movement of the piece. I needed to create a conversation between the five dancers that was emotionally charged and dynamic, but this was proving to be harder than anticipated. Most of the dancers shared similar values, so getting them to argue was nearly impossible!

We met for coffee and, unbeknownst to them at the time, I recorded the ensuing conversation on my phone. I started our chat with a question about whether or not they thought it was appropriate for Post:Ballet to post nude photographs on Facebook, and they all quickly assured me that this was completely acceptable and indeed a thing of beauty. (Mind you, these were the same dancers posing in the nude photographs I was referring to). I then pulled up some other nude photographs (shared online by other dance companies, theater ensembles, and art photographers) and asked them what they thought about the different images. Which were acceptable to be shared on Facebook, and which did they consider inappropriate? 

“This image is inappropriate because there’s a bed in the photograph with the nude models,” said one dancer, to which another replied, “so because the image is sexual it’s immediately inappropriate?” Other images sparked comments such as “if her facial expression were different, it would be okay, but because her intention is suggestive, it’s not” or “this one is appropriate because of the shadows on his body, but this image is too fully lit so it’s not okay.” After a lengthy conversation revolving around the minutia of what images would and would not be appropriate to share online, I pulled out my phone to let them know that I’d recorded our chat. 

(After receiving their consent to use the recording for internal purposes only) I edited this hour long conversation down to a five minute discussion. The final step of this experiment? I played this edited conversation back to the dancers at our following rehearsal and asked them to stand on the rehearsal floor together and move closer to a dancer when she/he was saying something that they agreed with, but move farther away from a dancer when she/he was saying something that they disagreed with. The resulting product? A conversation expressed through simple spatial shifting that was genuine, vulnerable, and perfectly suited for the opening of ourevolution. Keep an eye out for our coffee talk come to life at the beginning of the new work!

PS a fun fact:

Six of the nine Post:Ballet dancers performing in “Five High” are Cancers… meaning that we’ve had a LOT of birthdays this month! Another dancer (a Leo herself) just had her birthday today, and my birthday is actually on Sunday (turning the big 3-0!) so this summer’s season has been filled with celebration! Not to mention that Post:Ballet is turning 5! And ballet company years are like dog years, so that’s saying something! ^_^ 

photo by Tricia Cronin, Post:Ballet artists Robert Dekkers, Christian Squires, Sandrine Cassini, Janet Hope Rehm, Aidan DeYoung

4. You always collaborate with some very dynamic people. Can you highlight some of the people that you are working with this time?

I’m looking forward to premiering my second collaboration with SF based painter Enrique Quintero. Our first work together, Colouring, was such a great creative experience that I’ve been itching to find another opportunity to work with him again. After connecting with Bay Area animator Yas Opisso, I decided to bring the two together to create animation for this new work. As the work progresses and the conversation evolves, so too does the animation. It begins with hand-animated elements (crafted by coordinating animator Stephen Goldblatt of Quixotic Fusion, a multi-media performance company based in Kansas City that I frequently work with) and develops into 2D and ultimately 3D animation by Opisso. The dancers observe, then interact with, the animation as the work develops. It’s a totally new media for me to work with, and although it’s proven to be a much more difficult process than I’d originally anticipated (surprise!) I’m really inspired by the resulting work!

I’m also really excited to be collaborating with my partner, Christian Squires, on the costumes for the first movement of ourevolution. I asked him to envision what people might be wearing on the streets of San Francisco in 30 years, and so he considered elements such as climate change, wearable technology, and a desire for anonymity in his design. The resulting costumes include jackets with large hoods that block the dancers’ view of one another, as well design elements that suggest a not too distant future. Frequent collaborator Susan Roemer designed the costumes for the second movement of the new work, and so the two of them worked together and separately to create costumes that are connected but still unique.

And of course, the dancers in this work have been such important collaborators. From movement generation to concept development, they’ve given of themselves (physically and emotionally) to help me bring this work to life. I know that without them, I would only have an idea! Their input has been pivotal and I’m grateful to these artists for helping me create this new work.

Season Four highlights from Post:Ballet on Vimeo.

5. Is there anything else you would like to share?

I’m really excited about presenting Mine is Yours and field the present shifts again next week. Both works represent very distinct moments in my life, and so it’s really fulfilling to return to these pieces and delve deeper into the emotions and ideas I was exploring at the time I created these works.

Mine is Yours (2012) was originally created in response to a book I read in 2011 titled Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá that explores an alternative to the standard narrative (ie monogamous, heterosexual relationships). I was fascinated by the notion of sharing in relationships and wanted to express this in the work, but it wasn’t where I was at emotionally at the time. No matter how hard I try, I can’t lie with my choreography- it always ends up revealing things about myself that I don’t even realize (or that I simply don’t want to admit). In retrospect, I now see that the work is actually a commentary on my own selfishness. The three women in the work represent the three sides of the individual (ego, super ego, id) and the man is the “external world.” The women in Mine is Yours seem in constant competition with one another, struggling with the idea of sharing this singular “external world” with one another. By realizing that the piece was not at all an expression of sharing, but rather an investigation into my own capacity for selfishness (between the different sides of myself, between myself and others), I’ve been able to take the work to a more fully realized place and acknowledge what the work was suggesting all along. 

field the present shifts (2013) began with a conversation between myself and SF based architect Robby Gilson. After seeing Post:Ballet’s third season performances, Robby was inspired to connect with me and discuss the relationship between architecture and choreography. After several awesome (and rather esoteric) conversations, we decided we needed to create a work together that would somehow encapsulate the dialogue we had begun. But how? We needed some sort of shared vocabulary to communicate effectively, and so we developed a series of 20 hand gestures inspired by the American Sign Language alphabet. Robby used these gestures (and the coordinating movements I created for each shape) as his inspiration for the architectural elements in the work. I used the gestures as the base for the choreography, and together with lighting designer Dave Robertson, we were able to assign space on the stage to specific “letters” and craft a connected vocabulary of architecture and choreography with our shared alphabet. The resulting work (featuring an original score by Matthew Pierce played live by five violinists!) is an expression of what can happen when we communicate across languages and disciplines. 

photo by Tricia Cronin, Aidan DeYoung & company in “field the present shifts”

Post:Ballet’s “Five High” 

Thursday-Saturday, August 7-9 @ 8pm

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Lam Research Theater (San Francisco)

More information on the “Five High” program can be found at:

postballet.org/site/fivehigh

 

 



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